It’s official—AOPA Expo finished with one of its highest attendance records. The 2008 San Jose, Calif., show welcomed 9,500 members and attendees, making it one of the most successful Expos ever. It was also a poignant time, as the eighteenth annual Expo marks AOPA President Phil Boyer’s last, after 18 years with the association. Expo became a time to reflect on the amazing accomplishments realized by the association’s third president.
AOPA Board of Trustees Chairman Bill Trimble summed it up best, saying, “Phil Boyer posted a heck of a lot of victories.” In the left seat of AOPA, Boyer has successfully helped GA overcome the “greatest attack on our homeland since Pearl Harbor,” record-high avgas prices in 2007, a federal government bent on instituting user fees, and tragic general aviation accidents such as John F. Kennedy Jr., Jessica Dubroff, and Cory Lidle.
Tributes to Boyer and reflections on his tenure were among the key highlights of Expo 2008, which also saw the rollout of one of Boyer’s most ambitious initiatives to date—the establishment of the AOPA Foundation. This “Campaign for GA” will raise $58 million as a 501(c)3 corporation with the four-pronged goal of improving the public perception of GA, increasing the pilot population, preserving airports, and continuing the work of the AOPA Air Safety Foundation. The campaign began last year with a $5 million starting donation from longtime GA supporter Tom Haas. The public rollout of the campaign was announced with $26 million already pledged.
Boyer, in his characteristic self-deprecating fashion, kept the tributes and accolades surrounding him as low-key as he could, even acknowledging that there was a lot of “sucking up” going on. However, he was visibly moved on several occasions including, during the introduction of EAA Founder Paul Poberezny at the opening luncheon, whom he called his “father” in aviation; the plea from Rep. Peter DeFazio to consider becoming the next FAA administrator (Boyer said no), and the final banquet included a presentation of Boyer’s legacy.
A record number of exhibitor booths in the exhibit hall kept attendees busy when they were not participating in the 60 hours of seminars offered, general sessions, luncheons, and parties. Out at Norman Y. Mineta San Jose International Airport, just a short ride on a Cessna-sponsored bus from the convention hall, visitors were greeted by sunny skies, perfect temperatures, and a vast array of airplanes. Center stage was the 2008 Get Your Glass Sweepstakes Piper Archer, its pearl-white base coat and silver-and-black trimmings gleaming in the sun. Members hoped AOPA staffers were taking good care of “their” airplane.
The new Let’s Go Flying initiative and its Web site and planned activities for 2009 also were highlighted at Expo. “It’s a new look at how to get people flying,” explained Boyer. This and other key initiatives were part of a flight bag that Boyer prepared to present to incoming President Craig Fuller.
Greeting attendees for the first time on stage, Fuller thanked Boyer for his friendship and his mentoring. Acknowledging that accepting the presidential office at AOPA was a dream of his, Fuller told the audience that it is “a blessing beyond anything I could have imagined.” Fuller takes office Jan. 1.
It’s back to the East Coast for Fuller’s first official Expo. AOPA Expo 2009 takes place Nov. 5 through 7 in Tampa, Fla. We hope to see you there!